Something to look forward to…

Saturday, December 19th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

articlelargeHere in Central Virginia, we’re having one of those once in a decade or so storms in which you fill up your bathtubs with water and just hope the electricity stays on. So far it has (or otherwise I wouldn’t be able to post this).

The good news is there’s nothing like a snowstorm as an excuse to catch up on your reading. The bad news is I won’t be getting out any time soon to see this. I’ve never been a James Cameron fan, and I had the as-you-might-expect reservations that the technology (as is frequently the case with sf/fantasy films) would override the storytelling. Evidently, at least according to this review and a few others I’ve read, that isn’t the case.

I guess what’s really weird is this all sounds like a very giant first step into an immersive computer generated “reality” that once upon a time not so very long ago was only in the imagination of the cyberpunks.

Ken Rand’s Pax Dakota

Friday, December 18th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

pax-dakota-ken-randPax Dakota
Ken Rand
Five Star (265 pp, $25.95, May 2008)
Reviewed by Bill Ward

In 1899 the United States shares an uneasy peace with its western neighbor, the Dakota, a confederated nation of Native American peoples that had joined forces to defeat the US in a war almost three decades earlier. The Pax Dakota, the peace that governs these two competing powers, is ever in danger of breaking as racism, ambition, and old animosities on both sides threaten to plunge the US and Dakota nations back into a bloody war. Into this mix steps the Old Enemy, a malignant spirit that seeks enough souls to power its return trip back to heaven — back to the side of Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit that had exiled the Old Enemy to the Earth in the time of the First People.

In Pax Dakota Ken Rand gives us an immediately compelling alternate historical setting seasoned with a Native American flavor that gives it an exotic, unexpected quality. But primarily this is an action story, a Weird Western with horrific elements that quickly ratchets up the action and never lets up until the final scene.

The book opens with the death of Iron Shield in 1883, great war leader of the Dakota and architect of their new nation. Upon his death an entity known as the Watcher is released to find a new host — the benevolent Watcher is a guardian spirit of humanity, a being that imprinted Iron Shield with the idea for the Pax Dakota while still just a boy. The Watcher’s plan had always been to contain the prison housing the Old Enemy within Dakota territory so that the Dakota could maintain a vigil there. However, the prison of the Old Enemy, a region know as Devil’s Clay, remains in US territory after the peace, and the Watcher must quickly launch a plan that will bring about the final confrontation with the Old Enemy.

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Pastisches ‘R’ Us: Conan the Unconquered

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

conan-the-unconqueredConan the Unconquered
Robert Jordan (Tor, 1983)

Moving on with my Conan/Robert Jordan double-feature. . . .

With Conan the Unconquered, Robert Jordan’s third book in the series, the author seems settled with his style of writing the Hyborian Age. Some of the flaws in Conan the Defender are subdued, although the story is the average “meat ‘n’ potatoes” Conan pastiche material. The book has a feeling of comfort food: neither challenging nor surprising, but providing decent sword-and-sorcery entertainment.

The plot of Conan the Unconquered follows the Middle Eastern fantasy playbook, set around the Vilayet Sea in the Kingdom of Turan, with an excursion across the waters to Hyrkanian lands. Conan is not yet in his twenties, and has arrived in the Turanian city of Aghrapur. A compatriot from his thieving days, Emilio from Corinth, approaches Conan with the offer to join in stealing a necklace from a compound outside the city. The compound belongs to the Cult of Doom, whose members may be responsible for many assassinations occurring in the city. (The Cult of Doom sounds as if Jordan is swiping from the recent movie Conan the Barbarian.) Emilio’s lover, Davinia, is the one who wants the necklace stolen. Conan no longer wants to dabble in thievery, but after the astrologer Sharak casts a chart for the barbarian, he changes his mind and seeks out Emilio from the stewpots of Aghrapur.

As usual with pastiches, Conan has slender reason to stay in the story; the device of Sharak’s chart is a flimsy one (and Sharak as a plot device hangs around far longer than he’s needed) to keep Conan interested in the Cult of Doom and its necromancer leader Jhandar. Jordan manages to coax Conan into the story faster than in Conan the Defender with some sleight-of-hand that makes both Conan and Jhandar believe the other must die for them to live. Conan allies with a vengeance-minded Turanian sergeant, a group of Hyrkanians chasing after Jhandar for the desolation he brought to their land, and the beautiful Yasbet who keeps her parentage a secret.

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A review of the Cortex System Role Playing Game

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 | Posted by Vincent Darlage

Cortex System Role Playing Game
By Jamie Chambers
Margaret Weis Productions ( 160 pp, $29.99, April 2009)

cortext-systemThere are a lot of things to commend this book to an experienced gamer. The rules are fairly simple yet cover a lot of ground. I like how the abilities are not really tied into specific stats that are sometimes hard to justify -­ this system is much more fluid. It also is not conducive to rules lawyering ­ and if there is one thing I hate, it is rules-lawyering, so this is a positive for me. I can see where the OCD crowd who wants a rule for everything could be irritated with it, but I game by the principle that story precedes rules, and this rule set is made for that mindset.

Basically, after two or three hours of reading, a game master will feel comfortable enough to run the system. Layout is simple but functional ­ black-and-white and an easy to read font. It’s fairly thin for being the core rules of a game system, but I liked that. It made the book less intimidating than a lot of other systems I have looked at.

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The cure for Trilogy Fatigue: Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker

Sunday, December 13th, 2009 | Posted by Charlene Brusso

warbreaker-smallAnyone familiar with the Mistborn series knows Sanderson is expert at spinning fantasy stories packed with memorable characters, crisply detailed settings, unique magic, and major helpings of intrigue. Lately he’s been feted as the writer continuing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. While I realize that from a purely professional standpoint, the deal was a no-brainer, I hope cleaning up the WoT‘s loose ends won’t keep this talented author from giving us more of his own marvelous work.

Those suffering from “trilogy fatigue” will be happy to learn that Warbreaker is a stand-alone story. Welcome to Hallandren, a vast and mighty empire ruled by God King Susebron. The Hallandren capital T’Telir is a city of wonders and dangers, thanks to the Awakeners, sorcerers who use the color of everyday objects to control the life force called Breath and feed their BioChromatic magic.

Appalled at the innocent lives spent to fuel the Awakeners’ magic, the true ruling family of Hallandren escaped to remote Idris. No one wears color in pious Idris. No one weaves bright tapestries, paints lush landscapes, or glazes pots to a rich sheen, all for fear of Awakener magic. And Idrians born with Awakener abilities strive to hide them at any cost.

But things are about to change.

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Short Fiction Beat: The Last Talebones

Saturday, December 12th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

109161121Talebones, a so-called semi-prozine published twice a year, is calling it quits with issue #39 , some 14 years from its debut in 1995. Details as to why editor/owner Patrick Swenson is ending publication are scant, other than this terse annnouncement. Featured fiction is by Carrie Vaughn, Cat Rambo, Marie Brennan, John A. Pitts, Aliette de Bodard, Jason D. Wittman, Patricia Russo, Don D’Ammassa, and Keffy R.M. Kehrli, with poetry by Joshua Gage, Ed Gavin, Darrell Schweitzer and G.O. Clark.

Here’s a review of an issue from quite awhile back.

Brent Knowles reviews Black Gate 13

Thursday, December 10th, 2009 | Posted by John ONeill

black-gateissue-13-cover-150Long-time reader and professional writer Brent Knowles recently posted a review of Black Gate 13:

I have every issue of Black Gate… a fantastic magazine. I subscribe to the print issue, but there is now a digital copy available too.

 Brent highlights several pieces, including “Naktong Flow” by Myke Cole:

A very strong and realistic, yet exotic, world, solidly anchors this story. Much like The Naturalist, which I’ll get to later, this is the kind of story that immerses you in a world first, a world that could only exist in this story, the only world in which this story could exist. Much of the ‘fun’ of reading a story like this is in being exposed to culture, that while based on our world is injected with such imagination and originality that it carries the story even if it is not that strong. And better yet, this story is strong, with an interesting protagonist. Great!

And “Spider Friend” by L. Blunt Jackson:

An unique fable, told competently, this is one of my favorite stories this time around. A man gains the blessings of spiders, but, as is so often the case is tempted to walk away from what is good in his life, for what he desires.

And the final installment of Mark Sumner’s novel The Naturalist:

 I have enjoyed the previous two parts to this story and the third is no different. This is a world I could imagine living in, it feels real, authentic, a variation of our own world with just enough of the marvelous/horrible to make this a tale of the fantastic. A very satisfying conclusion to a fabulous adventure. 

The complete review is here.

Thanks Brent! Stay tuned for issue 14, coming soon!

GOTH CHICK NEWS: Hanging Around with Dead People, Part 2

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 | Posted by Sue Granquist

So last time I was describing the weird way I spend my vacations; namely freezing or roasting my extremities in damp places with puddles, while simultaneously holding a variety of electrical equipment, all in the name of provoking a paranormal occurrence. Real smart.  And did this ever pay off with some scream-worthy-TV-reality-show moments?

A couple, actually.

image002Creepy experience number one happened in New Orleans in Le Petit Theatre located in the heart of the French Quarter.  We were told the theater was haunted by several restless spirits, the most active of which were children who perished during one the many bouts of the plague which swept through the Louisiana swamps.  Le Petit had often been pressed into service as a temporary hospital and quarantine zone for children and many of them died there.

Our facilitator told us the spirits of the children were as mischievous as they had been in life, often playing tricks on both actors and patrons in the theater.  They also liked to touch the living, tugging on the purse straps or hair of ladies in particular.  The facilitator speculated the children were drawn to women, probably because they missed their mothers.

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Pastiches ‘R’ Us: Conan the Defender

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

conan-the-defenderConan the Defender
Robert Jordan (Tor, 1982)

I’ve had some requests on the site and in emails to my own blog from people who have enjoyed previous installments of “Pastiches ‘R’ Us” to look at Robert Jordan’s novels. I’m here to serve. This week and next I’ll feature two of the famous fantasy author’s Conan novels.

Robert Jordan, the pen name of James Oliver Rigney Jr., is the best-known of the stable of writer on Tor’s long-running and now defunct Conan pastiche series. After writing six consecutive books (and the novelization of Conan the Destroyer), Jordan turned into one of the most popular authors of epic fantasy with his “Wheel of Time” series. Unfortunately, Jordan’s career ended early with his death in 2007 from cardiac amyloidosis, only a month before his fifty-ninth birthday.

How does Jordan’s work on Conan stack up? He’s not consistently the strongest of the Tor group—I think John Maddox Roberts deserves that title—but when Jordan first started writing Conan, he created some fresh and energetic material. His first Conan novel, Conan the Invincible (also the first of the Tor series), is pulpily exciting and one of the few pastiches from the Tor books that I recommend to people who normally avoid non-Howard Conan.

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Short Fiction Review #22: Interfictions 2

Saturday, December 5th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

51e9xmo1jbl_sl160_aa115_1What’s interesting about a collection of “interfictions,” aka “interstitial fictions,” is that this isn’t just another descriptor  (e.g., new wave fabulism, new weird, slipstream, paraspheres, fill-in-the-blank) made up by an editor or a marketing department or critic that subsequently becomes blogosphere fodder about how inaccurate and/or stupid it is. Rather, interfictions is the self-proclaimed terminology of an actual organization that sponsors not only this second volume of what presumably is an ongoing anthology series, but promotes all kinds of “interstitial” literary, musical, visual and performance arts.

So just what is an interfiction? Henry Jenkins’s introduction opens with the famous quote from Groucho Marx about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have him as a member. While it may be true that interfictions don’t fit neatly into traditional categories, there’s considerable irony, if not the essence of interstitiality, about the idea of an organization in which membership is earned by virtue of failing to belong anywhere else.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on defining interfiction (if you’re interested, see my review of the first Interfictions for further deliberation), though it is interesting that the authors themselves, as well as co-editors, Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak, aren’t always quite sure, other than to note what it isn’t.

Sherman, for example, says that one rule of thumb for considering what to accept for Interfictions 2 was that if a story more than likely could be something you’d see in a genre magazine, say, Fantasy and Science Fiction, then it probably wasn’t an interfiction (adhering to the “if it belongs to some other club, it can’t be in ours” rubric). It is particularly ironical, then, that Amazon has named  Interfictions 2 as one of the top ten science fiction and fantasy books of 2009!

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